by Edward M. Yang
It’s hard to believe that you could blame the destruction of
a company’s reputation on mermaids.
But in the case of Animal Planet that might just be the case.
If you’re like me, you sometimes wonder why certain shows
are on the cable channels they are. There almost seems to
be no rhyme or reason for certain networks carrying shows
that don’t match the channel’s theme.
So far Animal Planet has remained a highly respected,
educational, factual channel.
Until the mermaids, that is.
In case you weren’t aware, Animal Planet put out a show
called “Mermaids: The New Evidence” that was a follow
up to last year’s “Mermaids: The Body Found”.
The show was a huge success, drawing 3.6 million viewers.
The reason for its success is simple: it looked like an actual
documentary. And it was advertised as such. And the titles
made it sound like they were.
They interviewed a man who was supposed to be a former
scientist with NOAA.
They showed people in labs piecing together bones.
And besides the CGI recreations of mermaids in the water,
the rest of it seemed legit.
But wait, if you stopped to watch the ending credits, you’d
almost miss the brief disclaimer:
“Though certain events in this film are fictional, Navy sonar
tests have been directly implicated in whale beachings,” the
Yup, the whole thing was fake. Unfortunately, it looked so
real that it fooled a lot of people, including a family member
And if there’s one thing consumers HATE, it is to be made a
fool out of without their permission.
The next day, headlines were blaring about how people
were furious that they were played for suckers.
Even the NOAA had to issue a public statement that they
weren’t involved and there was no evidence of mermaids.
In writing about the special, Times writer Ed Stockly noted,
“It’s remarkable how well this fake documentary mimics actual
programs claiming to reveal actual creatures. …it’s hard to
make a distinction between what’s real but faked, and what’s
Andrew David Thaler, who writes for Southernfriedscience.com
and describes himself as a “deep-sea biologist, population/
conservation geneticist, and backyard farm advocate,” wrote
of the special, “It’s not satire. It’s not parody. It’s a giant middle
finger to the public”.
Marjorie Kaplan, the channel’s president and general manager,
called it “a watershed — and a watercooler — moment for Animal
Planet,” because of its departure from reality programming.
It’s a watershed moment alright, but likely not in the way they
Although ratings were the highest ever, they may very well have
sacrificed their brand reputation on the altar of short-term
From their Facebook page, Twitter and on various message
boards, the theme of the angry comments were similar: we used
to trust this channel, but never again.
“I am losing so much respect for Animal Planet.”
“Animal Planet has turned into a joke. Now this channel has
resorted to reporting on fictitious creatures that have no
documented SCIENTIFIC evidence that supports them.”
“It’s a shame for Animal Planet to waste money on fakery
when there are other stories out there that are real.”
“STOP MAKING THESE FAKE DOCUMENTARIES! You do a huge
disservice to all science, knowledge and humanity by furthering
such horrible mockumentaries.”
What’s the key takeaway for you?
Never treat your customers like fools.
You might get a short term bump, but the long term damage
to your brand reputation could be immeasurable and fatal.
Remember what you stand for, and stick to it.